Mrs. Rochester: Jane Eyre’s Fulfillment of Oedipal Desire
by Matt Goldberg
“I suppose I should now entertain none but fatherly feelings for you: do you think so? Come, tell me” (502). It seems only natural that Charlotte Brönte would save this dialogue between Mr. Rochester and Jane for the last chapter of Jane Eyre. It is the first and only point when Brönte notifies the reader flat out, in case they hadn’t figured it out beforehand from the countless allusions of this theme throughout the novel, that the last five hundred or so pages is and was about Jane Eyre’s Oedipal relationship with Mr. Rochester.
The term “Oedipal” is of course taken from Freud’s Oedipus Complex which refers to, in this case, a girl’s psychosexual competition with the mother for possession of the father; desire to sleep with the father and kill the mother. For Jacques Lacan, the Oedipus Complex equates more to a child’s introduction into language and law. In the process of moving through the Oedipus Complex, the child learns the need to obey law and follow a closed differential system of language in which the child understands “self” in relation to “others” or simply, “me” versus “not me” (Felluga).
This essay will examine the Oedipal relationship between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester based on the psychoanalytic theories of Jacques Lacan. Such as, his mold on Freud’s Oedipus Complex which Lacan calls the “Name of the Father”, that occurs in the final stage of Lacan’s structure of the psyche known as the Symbolic Order. Furthermore, this essay will look at Jane Eyre’s psychosexual development, especially focusing on her entry into the Symbolic. Since the relationship between Jane and Rochester endures a majority of the novel, this essay will not focus on a particular passage of the novel, but rather, pay close attention to the areas throughout Jane Eyre when the relationship between the two characters is most relevant.
In order to fully capsulate Jane Eyre’s relationship with Rochester, and Jane’s “psychosexual competition”, it is crucial to focus on the character’s upbringing. First and foremost, Jane Eyre is an orphan. After her parents died of typhus shortly after Jane was born, she was sent to live with her aunt Reed at Gateshead. It is important to note that Jane’s uncle died also shortly after she arrived.“ – my mother’s brother – that he had taken me when a parentless infant to his house; and that in his last dying moments he had a promise of Mrs. Reed that she would rear and maintain me as one of her own children” (20). And Mrs. Reed obliged, begrudgingly, as she raised Jane with miserable cruelty as a single mother (with help of her servant staff) for the first ten years of Jane’s life. This is critical in assessing Jane Eyre’s psychosexual development and later her relationship with Rochester because of Jane’s absence of parental figures. Especially, her absence of a “father figure.” And for much of the novel, this absence remains prevalent.
Although, that is not to say that there are no adult males in Jane’s life, there’s Mr. Lloyd, the apothecary at Gateshead and Mr. Brocklehurst, the Master of the Lowood School, but these characters don’t lend themselves to Jane the way a father figure would. Just as Jane doesn’t turn to them the way a child would to a parent. It isn’t until Jane arrives at Thornfield and meets Mr. Rochester that she is actually presented with a suitable, although problematic, father figure.
In Lacan’s “Name of the Father” the father is a metaphor for the powers that control our life and over see our actions. But the “Name of the Father” isn’t just as easily described as the powers that control our lives; the meaning also relies a great deal on its definition in comparison to language. For example, if the mother represents the material or the physical relationship (breast feeding, child birth etc.) than the father undoubtedly represents the linguistic or legal relationship with the child. In fact, paternity in itself is established through language. There is no denying that a mother knows when she is a mother, it is inescapable. But for a father the notion is much harder to perceive, even impossible to prove, especially in the Victorian era. So the way a father learns that he is a father is based on a verbal identification from the mother; she tells the father that he is so, and the father must take the mother’s word. Since a father’s relationship towards his child begins with language it seems only natural that the child’s relationship towards her father would work in the same way. A father is told that he is a father just as a child is told who her father is.
The father continues the linguistic tradition when he presents ownership by giving the child her name. Rochester grants ownership over Jane in an identical fashion. He is the only character in the novel that calls Jane by her extended name, “Janet”, and also more literally, when he gives her a new name on the luggage, “Mr Rochester had himself written the direction, Mrs Rochester” (234). Although Jane is uncomfortable with the identity Rochester gives her on the luggage, she makes no effort to avoid being called Janet. The latter is Jane’s unconscious taking over. Since her extended name is Janet, she has a connection to that name and therefore takes no notice to it, even though she has never, as far as we know, been called Janet. However, when Rochester tries to change the name on the luggage to one that Jane has never associated with, her conscious mind becomes aware as she takes disliking to being called Mrs. Rochester and therefore rejects it. When a child is told who her father is it is precisely when the child enters the Symbolic. And precisely how Jane Eyre enters the Symbolic.
Being that Jane never knew her father, Jane’s relationship towards her father figure, Mr. Rochester, is presented in a very similar fashion. For example, Mr. Rochester says to Jane in chapter fourteen, “…Do you agree with me that I have a right to be a little masterful, abrupt, perhaps exacting, sometimes, on the grounds I stated, namely, that I am old enough to be your father” (157). This is the first point when Jane is delivered (verbally) the idea of Rochester as her father. However, Rochester doesn’t provide Jane with a definite point of view in a Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker sort of way, but for an orphan like Jane, even hearing the word “father” is destined to conjure up some perplexing associations.
Now with the idea of Rochester as her father, Jane shows her entry into the Symbolic as their Oedipal relationship begins. In fact, Jane doesn’t even consider Rochester as a possible candidate for a love affair until he brings up the notion of fatherhood to her. But this idea by no means fades away with the progress of their relationship and the novel. In fact, the idea of Rochester being Jane’s father is heightened as their relationship blossoms.
After Rochester purposes to Jane and upon hearing the news, Ms. Fairfax expresses, “No doubt is it true since you say so […] there are twenty years of difference in your ages. He might also be your father” (305). Although Ms. Fairfax is being facetious towards Jane, notifying Jane of the consequences of her actions and telling Jane to keep her distance, Jane perceives the statement in a different light. To Jane, being told Rochester is her father makes the idea, unconsciously, true and thus making Rochester even more desirable to Jane. Just as in the Oedipus Complex, a girl wishes to sleep with the father, ultimately completing her Oedipal dreams and desires.
The previously stated examples of Rochester as a father figure to Jane are very obvious suggestions but the theme is reoccurring throughout the novel, especially within the character of Mr. Rochester and his representation of male force and absolute power. Just as Lacan suggests that the “Name of the Father” is a metaphor for the powers that control our lives. Rochester becomes the “name of the father” as his power is presented through Rochester’s temper and his cruelty, particularly during the mind games he plays with Jane; his deception, his disguises and his lies are all a source of his power over Jane.
Rochester gains amusement out of tormenting Jane, as he never reveals his feelings as long as Jane does not reveal hers. This shows Rochester’s desire for dominance. He calls upon Jane frequently to sit with him and answer his questions, much like a father would, “Is there not one face you study? One figure whose movements you follow with at least curiosity? (230)”, “You have seen love: have you not?” (231), “Jane, tell me if you don’t think it [the carriage] will suit Mrs Rochester exactly […] can’t you give me a charm, a philter, or something of that sort, to make me a handsome man?” (283). To which Jane replies, “your sternness has a power beyond beauty […] I am strangely glad to get back again to you; and wherever you are is my home – my only home” (283). At this point, Jane falls in love with Rochester because he is the only male figure in her life with any sort of power over her. And since her entrance into the Symbolic has been interrupted by her oppressive childhood, Jane has lost the conscious ability to recognize a marriage with Rochester as unmoral. However, Jane’s unconscious mind takes every precaution necessary in preventing the Oedipal accomplishment and making sure the wedding does not take place. This is done in several ways.
The first comes to Jane in the form of an emergency. In chapter fifteen, Bertha puts fire to Rochester’s bed while he is asleep. In a sense, Bertha can be characterized as Jane’s evil twin; going forth with the actions that Jane intimately feels but ultimately cannot endure. This idea continues when Jane’s unconscious mind once again tries to disrupt the marriage, this time in a dream, or what Rochester assures her is a dream (much like a father would comfort his child after a nightmare and reassure them of the state of reality). As the wedding day approaches, Jane’s anxiety of losing her identity and becoming Mrs. Rochester reflect the internal discomfort she gains from marrying her father (figure). The night before the wedding takes place Jane’s anxieties become realties as Bertha comes into Jane’s room and tears up the wedding veil. Bertha once again appears as Jane’s alter ego or unconscious mind as the most crucial reason why Jane should not marry Rochester. In fact, Bertha’s mere existence in the novel can be construed as metaphor for the unethical union between Jane and Rochester – between father and daughter.
Even after the wedding takes place and the story is resolved, Jane still feels bothersome by the unconventionality of her new relationship. The final chapter sees Jane Eyre as an independent, wealthy and powerful woman who has still not graduated from the Symbolic as she retires married to Mr. Rochester in a secluded far off woodland dwelling to escape both the way society views the unethical relationship and so Jane may run away from her unconscious mind and ultimately fulfill her all encompassing desire of Oedipal accomplishment without the judgment of others.